Galatians 2:20-“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
John 15:1-5-1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
The Great I Am is Jesus, the Vine. Why a vine? Let’s remember who was listening to Jesus’ words. This was part of the Upper Room discourse where Jesus was speaking to His disciples who were Jewish people. They would have started to put some things together as He spoke because through the Old Testament, the grapevine was a symbol, a very prominent one, for the people of Israel. Actually, at the gates of the temple which was the center of Israel’s national life, was a huge grapevine made of gold. For Israel, the grapevine was a symbol of prosperity.
One key Old Testament passage is Psalm 80 where the nation of Israel was likened to a vine. It reads: You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.
This passage refers to God taking the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land where He established them and prospered them. You could say Israel was planted by the Lord. However, the Israelites didn’t produce the fruit God intended. He says of them in Jeremiah 2:21: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” Israel wasn’t producing the right kind of fruit because they would often disconnect from God and try to attach themselves to other sources, to other vines.
This morning, we want to evaluate our connection with the Vine. Just how close are we and why does it matter?
A missionary in Africa several decades ago lived in a small hut which was electrically supplied by a quiet, small generator. The little gas powered wonder supplied current for both his home and the primitive church building beside it.
Late one afternoon two African men from another much more remote village visited the Pastor in his hut, and were amazed when night fell and he simply switched the room lights on. They were wide-eyed at the electric light bulb hanging from the ceiling of his living space.
One of the visitors asked the Pastor if he could have one of the bulbs. Thinking perhaps he wanted it for a sort of trinket, the Pastor obliged and gave it to him. Months passed. On his next visit to the remote village of that same man, the Pastor stopped at the hut of the man who had previously asked for the bulb, and was totally surprised when he saw the bulb hanging from an ordinary string. The man understood the general idea of connection, but he didn’t understand empowering.
There were times that Israel seemed to understand the general idea of being connected with God or associated with God, but they didn’t understand the close connection that was needed in order for their lives to be empowered to bear fruit. Perhaps many Christians are like that today. God is part of our lives, He is hanging around our neck via the cross we wear. He is a piece of our lives that we are interested in knowing some more about. He is included in our week in that we come to church on Sundays, but do we really understand that He is to be the centerpiece of our lives and that everything else we are and do is to be empowered out of that relationship?
How are we to live in response to this Great I Am statement Jesus made? I want to offer four words, four concepts for our consideration. They are: REMAIN, RECEIVE, RELY, and REPRODUCE.
Look with me at the first idea:
We are to REMAIN in Christ. We get connected to God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit through the salvation experience. We are told once we experience salvation, once we are grafted into Jesus the Vine, we are to stay there, grow there, flourish there, and produce fruit there. We only get what God has to offer as we stay connected to Jesus, the Vine.
Verse 9 says we are to remain in His love. Verse 3 tells us we have been made clean by the Word of God that has taken root in our lives. Specifically, we have been made clean by accepting the Good News of Salvation through Jesus. There is a close connection between the Word of God and purity, between the Word of God and righteousness, between the Word of God and right living. By accepting God’s Word about who Jesus is, we have been made clean, and Jesus says, “Stay there. Keep connected to Me through my Words. Keep listening to my voice.”
God’s Word is life-giving. It gives direction. It is an anchor for all things God and all things good. As we remain connected to God through His Word, we will have the right stuff, the right nutrients, the right ingredients, to live steadfast as Christian believers in the world.
So, we remain in Christ through close connection to His Word. We also see in verse 10 that remaining connected to the Vine involves obedience to the Word that we take in. John 15:10 “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
“Most Christians are educated way beyond their level of obedience.” – John Maxwell
“One step forward in obedience is worth years of study about it.” – Oswald Chambers
Many of us in the church don’t have a lack of knowledge, but our follow-through could use some work. So many people want what the Vine has to offer, but they don’t want to live as a branch. They don’t want to stay faithful to the Vine. They don’t want to consult the Vine. They don’t really trust the Vine. That is what obedience comes down to-a matter of trust. If we really trusted what God said was best for us, we wouldn’t choose anything else. The way to grow and flourish and the only way to a life of joy (verse 11) is to accept AND obey the Word of God.
Roger Staubach, who led the Dallas Cowboys to the Super Bowl victory in 1971, admitted that his position as a quarterback who didn’t call his own signals was a source of trial for him. Coach Landry sent in every play. He told Roger when to pass, when to run, and only in emergency situations could he change the play. Even though Roger considered Coach Landry to have a “genius mind” when it came to football strategy, pride said that he should be able to run his own team. Roger had a decision to make. Would he allow pride to rule his life and ignore his coach, making himself the star? Or would he listen to the coach and do what he wanted? Staubach later said, “I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory.”
We will faithfully abide or remain in Christ when we live out His Word in obedience.
Receive-We need to learn to receive correction and instruction. Verse 2 tells us the Gardener prunes the branches, cutting them back at times, so that they have the maximum possibility of producing maximum fruit. How open are we to this kind of process?
This is a huge discipleship concept. We may think a good disciple is one who can tell others about Jesus or is one who faithfully reads their Bible and prays or is one who never misses a church service and helps lead Bible studies and outreach, but in this story about the Vine and the branches, we see that a good disciple also has to be open to personal correction.
I had an interesting conversation with someone this week who works in a Christian environment and they made the statement that it is often more difficult to resolve conflict with Christian co-workers than it was when this person worked in a secular environment with non-Christians. They said that their experience was that Christians were far more touchy when something was brought up that could be done differently or better than non-Christians. I can’t speculate as to what that was about, but I know that isn’t what God desires. We need to have a teachable, a coachable spirit.
Remember Romans 12:2 says we are to be transformed. We can’t be transformed without correction. Not one of us here is exactly like Jesus. We all need to be changed. Personal growth and spiritual growth won’t happen without correction. We may have prayed, “Bless me, God” this week or “Forgive me, God” this week, but how many of us have prayed, “Change me, God,” “Correct me God?”
We need to welcome correction. We need to welcome pruning because it is the way to a fuller and more productive life. It is the way, as I have already said, to real joy. We cannot have the mindset that no one can tell us what to do because God often uses people in our lives to accomplish His will. Everyone you meet has something to teach you. They don’t even have to know God in order for God to use them in your life to transform something about you.
There are times God may want you to sit down for a while and step back from a leadership role. Maybe He is pruning you. That doesn’t mean He is mad at you or you did something wrong. It could just mean that He can’t teach you what you need to know while you are so busy working for Him.
Maybe when you don’t get the promotion or don’t get the spot on the team or don’t have the boyfriend or girlfriend your heart is currently set on it isn’t because God doesn’t have those things planned for you somewhere down the road, but it might be because He has something to say to you and something to teach you before He gives them to you.
Pruning is positive. Turn to your neighbor and tell them, “Pruning is positive.” It isn’t negative. It is for our benefit. Don’t you want everything that is for your benefit? Hebrews 12:11 teaches us this truth: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Let God teach you what you need to know. Let Him humble your heart in the ways it needs to submit. Your time will come in God’s time. If He is pruning you, if He is working on you, it is because He is getting you ready for fruitfulness!
Rely-In verse 5 Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing. Is that really true? We can do some things. We can pursue a career. We can raise children. We can save money. We can help our neighbors. Yes, we can do those things. What Jesus is saying is that apart from Him, we can’t produce the fruit that comes from the Vine. We can do some stuff, yes, but we can’t do the Vine stuff, we can’t do the God stuff without Him. But as we stay connected to the Vine, we can do all things. We can do whatever the Vine desires for us to do. Disconnected branches can’t do what the Vine can do, but as branches stay connected, they bear the fruit of the Vine.
There are days where things will be pretty predictable and manageable. You won’t maybe be as God-conscious on those days in terms of relying on Him for strength, insight, and help. Even if you aren’t aware of a need for Him, He will be there to help you move through your day if you are abiding in Him.
But then there will be days that come out of nowhere, days that knock you off your feet and shake your faith, days that cause you to doubt your ability to go on, and in those moments, if you are an abider, God will be a Provider, of all that you need to make it through.
What did Paul say? I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13
Paul said this in the context of the ups and downs of life. When life is good he was receiving strength from God and when life was horrible he was receiving strength from God. That is how he said he could live a contented life no matter what his circumstances were. It was because he was connected to the Vine.
Apart from God we can’t have contentment and joy in painful, difficult times, but as we stay connected to Him, we can! I can follow God when it is personally difficult. I can be content when circumstances are difficult as long as I am connected to Jesus, the Vine!
What Jesus is trying to help us understand is that we won’t make it very easily without Him, and if we do, it won’t be with the joy, peace and contentment that we could have. The Vine makes the difference. Tell your neighbor, “The Vine makes the difference.”
Philippians 4:13 has been often misquoted to mean that whatever you desire to do, you will be able to do it with God’s help. God may not want you to go to the NBA. I could quote that verse all day long, but I am never going to be an Olympic gymnast. I mean picture me on the uneven bars? Just because I desire something doesn’t mean God will enable me to have it or become it. That isn’t what His strength is for.
But what the verse means is that in tough times when you need God-sized strength, if you are connected to the Vine, you will receive it. I don’t know what difficult circumstance you are going through, but I will tell you this, if you get close to the Vine, you are going to make it. You will get through it.
Reproduce-John 15 is clear. We are supposed to bear fruit. We are to help other people get connected to the Vine, and God helps us do that in all kinds of ways. There is also a Divine Destiny and plan for each one of our lives. Here is the deal, as soon as we connect to the Vine, we are supposed to bear fruit. So many times, people make excuses for why they can’t bear fruit for the Kingdom. There is no excuse for not bearing fruit if you are connected to the Vine. That is what branches do. Branches that are connected to the Vine bear fruit.
Some people say they will bear fruit when they are older or are more spiritually mature. They think they need to be more ready to bear fruit. It reminds me of a story of a man and his wife had their first child two months after he had been shipped overseas on a 13-month tour of duty. Shortly after he returned home his wife suggested that he try his hand at changing the baby’s diapers. “I’m busy,” he said, “I’ll do the next one.” The next time the baby was wet she asked her husband if he was ready to learn how to change diapers. He looked puzzled by her question for a moment and then said, “Oh, I didn’t mean the next diaper, I meant the next baby!” He just kept putting it off! (Source Unknown)
We cannot put off being fruit bearing Christians. We cannot make excuses. If we are connected to the Vine, we already possess everything we need in order to bear fruit. And Jesus didn’t say we should bear a piece of fruit or a little fruit, but look at verse 8 of John 15:8-“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear MUCH fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
We are not just branches, people, but we are fruit producers! How are things going in the produce department this morning? Notice the end of the verse says we show we are Jesus’ disciples when we produce fruit. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit in order to give us what we need to bear fruit! We are told in Galatians 5:22-23 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
When people see those things exhibited in our lives, they will be seeing the Vine. They will be seeing what God is like. When God is revealed in us, God will be glorified, and fruit will be reproduced as more and more people connect to the Vine. I just wonder . . .If more Christians were bearing fruit perhaps more people would be “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.” I guess if branches bear fruit, and we aren’t bearing any we might need to check our connection to the Vine this morning.
For those of you who expected a Palm Sunday message, here is the tie in. Jesus had just entered Jerusalem to the people’s Hosannas. He had just cleared the temple where all kinds of injustices were being done, and we read about a fruitless fig tree in : Matthew 21:18-22 18 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. 20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
When Jesus cursed it, He performed a symbolic act. The fig tree symbolized Israel. As the fig tree had leaves but no fruit, Israel had a temple, but no spiritual life. Let’s check our spiritual pulse this morning. How connected are we to the Great I Am? Are we remaining in close fellowship with Him through His Word and our obedience to live it out? Are we willing to receive instruction and correction so that we can be the best fruit bearers possible? Are we relying on Him for strength in the tough times or are we living depleted, frustrated, and angry? Are we reproducing? Do our lives bear fruit as they point people to Jesus, the Great I Am, the True Vine?